Movie poster for Die Another Day, the 20th James Bond movie.

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Action movies, or sometimes known as actioners, usually involve a fairly straightforward story of good guys versus bad guys, where most disputes are resolved by using physical force. more...

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Action films are largely derived from crime films and thrillers, by way of westerns and to some extent war films. Modern Hollywood examples of the genre are usually "high concept" films where the whole movie can be easily summarized (eg. "a scientist brings dinosaurs back to life only to find them trying to dominate earth, again" for Jurassic Park). Who exactly the good guys are differs from film to film, but in Hollywood films they usually are patriotic and rather conservative (though not die-hard) Americans, whereas the bad guys are usually either criminals or agents of foreign powers. In the 1950's and '60s, they were very often Communists, which brings some action films fairly close to propaganda films. Starting in the 1970s, Communists were seen less as the predominant villains (although they were still widely present until the late '80s), and the focus turned instead to drug lords, terrorists, or some other criminal element. Action movies also tend to have a single heroic protagonist and often portray institutions such as the military or police as incompetent and limited by rules and regulations which the protagonist has no regard for. This creates the stereotypical conflict between an action hero and the establishment.

The genre, although popular since the '50s, did not become one of the most dominant forms in Hollywood until the 1980s and 1990s, when it was popularised by actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. The 1988 film Die Hard was particularly influential on the development of the genre in the following decade. In the movie Bruce Willis plays a New York police detective who inadvertently becomes embroiled in a terrorist take-over of a Los Angeles office block. The film set a pattern for a host of imitators which often just used the same formula in a different setting. Examples included Under Siege, Passenger 57, Executive Decision, Con Air and Air Force One.

Action films tend to be expensive requiring big budget special effects and stunt work. Action films have mainly become a mostly-American genre, although there have been a significant number of action films from Hong Kong which are primarily modern variations of the martial arts film. Because of these roots, Hong Kong action films typically center on acrobatics by the protagonist while American action films typically feature big explosions and modern technology.

Current trends in action film include a development toward more elaborate fight scenes, perhaps because of the success of Asian martial arts elements, such as kung fu and karate, in Western film. Actors in action movies are now much more skilled in the art and aesthetic of fighting than they have been in the past, apart from a few acknowledged fighters like Steven Seagal. Now, a distinction can be made between films that lean toward physical agile fighting, such as The Transporter, and those that lean toward other common action film conventions, like explosions and plenty of gunfire, such as Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever or Lethal Weapon, although most action movies employ elements of both.

Several of the common action film conventions saw their birth in the release of James Bond series (containing many of the original elements of spy movies still seen today). One popular element is the car chase, a feature that is almost standard in action films. Bullit and The French Connection were among the earliest films to present a car chase as an action set-piece. At present, many action films culminate in a suspenseful climax centered around a Mexican standoff between two leading characters.

Action films also constitute very good examples for feminist film theory, because in them, the separation between the physical male who controls the scene and the look and the female, who is almost always the object of the look is very clear. Although female characters in most action films are nothing more than objects, a prize for the winner, hostages, loving wives and the like, there has been a move towards stronger female characters. These are maybe best exemplified in works by James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow.


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